Merlion may make it to steampunk Singapore

American writer Gail Carriger is thinking of setting the third book of her series, The Custard Protocol, in Singapore.
American writer Gail Carriger is thinking of setting the third book of her series, The Custard Protocol, in Singapore.ST PHOTO: CHEW SENG KIM

Steampunk writer Gail Carriger may set her next novel in Singapore.

The American author was met with applause when she told a Singapore Writers Festival audience that she was thinking of setting the third book of her series, The Custard Protocol, here.

Speaking at the Arts House Play Den last Saturday, the 40-year-old said: "I have a history of love affairs with port cities, melting pots and border towns."

Wearing black gloves and a tiny blue fascinator, she spoke to a full house including Senior Minister of State for Culture, Community and Youth Sim Ann, who later wrote on Facebook that she was "thrilled" to meet her favourite steampunk author.

"I heartily agree with those who suggested she consider our beloved island-state as a future setting," added Ms Sim.

Steampunk is a sub-genre of science fiction that imagines an alternate universe, usually in the 19th century, where technology is based on steam power.

Carriger said she started writing steampunk and urban fantasy because she noticed a lack of funny female writers in these genres.

The comic fantasy novels she read were dominated by the likes of Terry Pratchett, Douglas Adams and Jasper Fforde. "They all had a very specific kind of male humour."

Her novels usually feature plucky, irreverent heroines.

Her first series, The Parasol Protectorate, is a comedy of manners about a soulless spinster who must navigate a Victorian London where vampires and werewolves are part of high society.

Carriger owned that her books were "escapism", but hinted that whimsy was potent in its own way.

The former archaeologist, who has a partner, said: "By and large, when a new technology is introduced into a civilisation, it appears in a whimsical form first."

Metals, for example, would appear as jewellery or on dolls before they became weaponised.

What might fans expect from a supernatural steampunk Singapore in Carriger's universe?

Moderator Khoo Sim Eng, who is SIM University's head of film studies, suggested the Merlion could make an appearance.

Carriger said she has included a merman in her upcoming book. "The Merlion might be a merman with delusions of grandeur," she mused. "And a fascination with spitting."

It was her first visit to Singapore. She was looking forward to trying fishhead curry - "I like crunchy eyeballs" - and had already taken a liking to dragonfruit. "It's like a kiwi went and got sucked by a vampire."

Pressed by an audience member for updates on screen adaptations of her books, Carriger said she has had to turn down a US$2-million (S$2.8-million) film deal for her Finishing School series, about a school that trains young women to be spies.

The producers had wanted to whitewash a character she had written as being of African descent, so she chose not to relinquish control.

"Something like a TV deal is nice - is gravy - but my living and my world are my words and that's what's important to me," she said.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 14, 2016, with the headline 'Merlion may make it to steampunk Singapore'. Subscribe